Monday, August 22, 2005

Call Any Vegetable
Vegetarianism is looking increasingly appealing to me lately, particularly in the last week or so when there's been a food scare 'o the day in Hong Kong and on the mainland. It began with bird flu several months ago -- at which point I took chicken, duck and goose off my menus. After reports of swine flu, particularly one about a Hong Kong butcher who caught it and is struggling for his life after he chopped up swine with an unbandaged, ungloved bleeding hand, pork was out the door.
News that some farmers in Hong Kong and the mainland ``vaccinate'' their swine by feeding the tissue of sick pigs to healthy pigs didn't exactly set my mind at ease either.
And lately it's been eels and freshwater fish, all apparently tainted with a cancer causing, banned, anti-fungal chemical that sounds either like a exotic jewel, a potent dope strain or a new age band: Malachite Green. I wasn't a huge eel consumer in the States - I'd eat it as sushi - but had developed a taste for it here after C introduced me to it in a dish called congee which is basically a sort of rice porridge with chicken, eel, shrimp or any other by-now toxic animal flesh added.
You won't read or hear much, if anything, about these problems in Shenzhen or the rest of the mainland due to a media blackout after an intital belch of reports regarding "questionable" pork being seized from SZ markets and private homes. What news there is currently is simply "health authorities" stating that everything is fine, nothing to see here folks, move along...
A Canadian researcher at the University of Montreal has offered his swine flu expertise to the Chinese government but has been ignored despite the fact that he's been studying the bacteria for 17 years and is one of only a handful of experts on the subject.
Hong Kong health authorities haven't been much better. They've stalled and stuttered on releasing what little information they've gleaned from their mainland counterparts and seem more concerned with playing footsie with Beijing and placating the fish, pork and fowl lobbies here rather than being upfront with Hong Kong consumers. In that placate-our-Beijing-puppetmasters vein, a ban on mainland pork that began about a week ago is about to be lifted.
And a short-lived ban on mainland freshwater fish will also be rescinded Tuesday. The reason for the flip-flop? "Freshwater fish is not food!" stated HK health minister (and alleged physician) York Chow with a straight face. He seems to believe that all such fish - dead or alive - sold in Hong Kong restaurants and markets are destined solely for lavish ornamental fish ponds and aquariums.
Much of this is, of course, reminiscent of the inital SARS cover-ups. It seems some children never learn.
Meanwhile, despite my bird flu fears and a life-long avowal that anything that plops out of a chicken's arsehole is best avoided, I've been eating lots of homemade cheese and tomato omelets. McDonald's salads, oodles o' noodles, and occasional duels with death-by-sushi and canned (British) tuna-mercury salad are also part of this Foreign Barbarian's South China Food Pyramid.
And C and I were thrilled last weekend to discover that a Pizza Hut delivery-only operation has just opened only four blocks from the Lucky Number. All their meat comes from the States (okay, I'm rashly taking their word for it) and they deliver in 30-minutes or less, even in the midst of last weekend's typhoon.
Make mine a 12-inch Godfather Supreme, just hold the eel.
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